The BUCS Coaching carousel seems to have gathered speed this off-season with a number of high profile departures from some of the country’s biggest programmes.
Whilst we are used to the usual shuffling of coaches in the lower tiers, it has been the Premier League that has been the headline act this summer.
First to go was long term Loughborough Head Coach Paul “Cowboy” Sherratt. After a successful 2016/17 season, in which the Students posted a 6-2 record and a second place Premier North finish, Sherratt has made the decision to step down as Head Coach. Current defensive co-ordinator and former Loughborough student Martin Hilton is the new Head Coach and will be balancing that alongside his duties as current Tamworth Phoenix HC.
Sherratt is still the President of BAFCA so it remains to be seen for how long he is out of the game, having previously had a spell on the sidelines. A long term uniball stalwart, Cowboy has served both as a player and a coach on a number of GB Student teams and featured in the DC Uniball Hall of Fame.
The next of the big guns to go was Jim Messenger of the Hertfordshire Hurricanes who led the ‘canes to a Premier South leading record of 7-1. Messenger is the All-Time Uniball winningest coach with five Bowl wins to his name (4 as Head Coach and 8 total appearances), with an appearance in the big game as recently as 2015. His increasing involvement as Head Coach of the Great Britain Women’s Programme has led to this decision and to the surprise of nobody, saw his long-term Co-Ordinator Simon Hatcher take over the team. Messenger is also a previous GB Students Head Coach, a Hall of Famer, and his 20 years of experience in the game will be a big loss to the community.
Nick Keyse turned around the Swansea Titans programme and led them to two Bowl wins; the Challenge Trophy in 2013-14, and the Division One Bowl in 2015-16, leading the Titans into the Premier South. They impressed right out of the gate with a third place finish and 5-3 record in their debut season in the top tier. Beloved by his players, Keyse received the incredible leaving present of a holiday to New York!
Into Division One and the prominent names of Richard Batty at Sheffield Hallam, Phil Wood at Nottingham students, Jonty Newman at Kent, Pete Buckley at Warwick, Stuart Ross at the Staffordshire Stallions, Duncan Workman at Sussex are huge losses to their respective programmes!
Wood resigned citing his failure to get Nottingham promoted to the Premier Division but remains as the BUCS SAG chair and will therefore still have an influence over the game.
Batty had the difficult task of rebounding his Hallam team back into the Premier Division after relegation in 2015-16 season. He took the Warriors within a game of that target before losing to Leeds Beckett in the Division One North Regional final.
Controversially, Coach Newman appears to be heading to Kent’s local rivals, the Canterbury Chargers for the 17/18 season, which should see some interesting fixtures next season following the Chargers’ undefeated season and promotion to the middle tier for the next year of Uniball meaning the two sides will likely meet on at least two occasions next year.
Division Two has also seen a number of changes with Aaron Sloly departing MMU, Sean Lewis leaving QMBL, Sarah Jauncey being released by Chester Legion, Ed McGreal stepping down at the Lincoln Colonials, and an ongoing vacancy at Westminster.
With 14 changes made, or pending, the spotlight turns to why such a high turnover?
There is no doubting that the stress and pressure of running successful university programmes leads to burnout, and the need for coaches to step away for a while. It should be noted for instance that Keyse, Batty, Wood, Newman, Messenger, and Sherratt are long term/one team servants who have dedicated themselves to their individual programmes.
There is also an element of politics at play. Uniball coaches whisper it quietly but there is often unease at the myriad of difficulties in working with incoming committees tasked with running student teams. Programmes are run at the whim of student athletes who volunteer for committee roles with little expertise of what is involved and have been known to make coaching changes in order to make their mark (It should also be noted that many of the most successful Uniball teams have the longest serving coaches or have an established line of succession).
The task of the Coach is a difficult one, and the countless hours of volunteering and dedication required to be successful in their post requires an established support network. Assistant coaches, family backing for the hours away, and the support of a student union and team committee are imperative for coaches to be given the opportunity to succeed. Without those in place we will continue to see a number of our best and brightest drop out of the game and Football will be the worse off for the loss of their talents.
A reminder that the BAFCA Coaching Convention is this weekend at the ICE Arena in Nottingham and tickets are still available for what should be an incredibly informative weekend!
If your programme is looking to recruit coaches, or you are yourself looking to get in to coaching, you can check out our ‘Jobs Board’ over in the coaching section of the site, or get in touch about hosting an advertisement of your own for a nominal fee.
* Eds: We’ve been updated that Sarah might well be the -second- female Uniball Head Coach. Our elves shall do some digging!